Israel does not believe embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad will use chemical weapons against the Jewish state, a senior minister said Sunday, amid reports that the depots in the war-torn country are being readied for use.
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israel Radio that he saw no indication Assad was going to use the country’s large stores of weapons on Israel.
“We see no sign that this weaponry is being pointed at us,” said Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff and possible defense minister candidate. “Syria has been armed for the last decades with chemical missiles and weapons, but our deterrent factor is stable and the proof is that they haven’t used it against us yet.”
Of larger concern, however, may be the possibility that the weapons stockpiles fall into the hands of rebel groups in the country, many of which are tied to Islamist groups.
The Islamist rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, which has ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq, led a group which conquered a command center near Aleppo on Sunday, Reuters reported.
Ya’alon’s comments came amid reports that Syrian rebels were closing in on some of the country’s chemical weapons depots.
Germany’s spy chief remarked Sunday that Assad was likely on his last legs.
Many fear Assad may use the weapons in desperation, either on his own people, or against Israel as a way of drawing a third party in and deflecting pressure.
Earlier on Sunday, the British newspaper The Sunday Times reported that Israeli special forces were already on the ground in Syria monitoring the chemical stockpiles, thought to be among the largest in the world.
“For years we’ve known the exact location of Syria’s chemical and biological munitions,” an Israeli source was quoted as saying. “But in the past week, we’ve got signs that munitions have been moved to new locations.”
Several reports emerged last week that Assad may be moving or readying the chemical weapons for use. Several Western nations, including the US and Israel, warned that the use of the weapons, which could wipe out thousands in a matter of hours, would constitute a “red line” and lead to military intervention.
Citing intelligence reports, British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Saturday warned that the Syrian government might use its sizable stockpile of chemical weapons against the rebels fighting to overturn Assad’s regime, AFP reported.
“We are extremely concerned about the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and we are also concerned about evidence during the last couple of weeks that the regime could use them,” Hague said on the sidelines of a regional security conference in Manama, the capital of Bahrain.
The Sunday Times also reported that rebel groups claimed the chemical weapons were already being used, citing a video they said was filmed in Aleppo, with victims whose faces were disfigured in a manner that could be caused by a chemical agent.